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Review: Trying to beat up the Rapha Trail knee pads

Can all-day pedaling meet real protection in one pad?

Rapha Trail Knee Pad Review Photo by: Rapha Trail Knee Pad

Rapha’s rolling fast into the world of mountain biking. After a strong debut in off-road apparel, Rapha took the next step into protective wear with the Trail knee pad.

Protective wear is different than apparel, and it is an all-new area for Rapha. How does the brand’s first, lightweight trail pad fare? Impressively well. Rapha’s Trail knee is surprisingly comfortable to pedal and tough enough to survive real falls. All in, an excellent debut. Want to know what makes this pad stand out? Read on.

Rapha Trail Knee Pads
Rheon Labs material is flexible until impact and breathes well. Photo: Rapha

Rapha Trail knee pads

The Trail knee is a lightweight pad designed to be comfortable pedalling in while still providing enough protection for proper trail riding. It achieves this by using a flexible pad, developed in collaboration with Rheon Labs, held in place under a durable SuperFabric. A four-way-stretch sleeve, book-ended by two wide gripper bands hold the pad in place.

The Rheon pads are removable when you need to wash the sleeve. Rapha covers the pads, like the rest of its mountain bike gear, with its free repair service.

On the Trail: Fit and function

From the first ride, Rapha’s Trail knee pads are frustratingly comfy. As in, it is frustrating that – after trying so many different knee pads over years of riding – these immediately feel so much more comfortable. Pedalling in pads has always felt like a bit of a compromise. Either you sacrifice protection for comfort, or the opposite. Rapha’s pads disappear on short rides and are still comfortable even after 2-3 hours in the saddle.

Why? Well, they stay in place really well. The long gripper is comfortable and secure. The sleeve is long and light, and stays in place while pedalling instead of bunching up behind the knee. They even stay in place while pedalling in long pants. The lightweight fabric sleeve and Rheon pad also breathe impressively well. Pick up any speed at all, and you’ll feel the air flow through the pads.

Fit-wise, Rapha makes the Trail knee pad on the slimmer side. There is a handy sizing chart with thigh and calf measurements as a guide. My mediums were on the small side, but still comfortable to pedal in. If you’re concerned and can’t try them on, consider sizing up. As a rider who usually has the opposite problem, with skinny legs that never seem to support pads, these are amazing. The sleeve and pad are long enough that I can size down without worrying about a gap showing between the top of the pads and the bottom of my shorts.

Rapha’s design is great, but it’s not entirely unique. There are elements of the Rapha pads in other brands. Whistler’s Chromag uses Rheon padding. Other brands have a similarly lightweight and long sock design. Rapha pulls the Trail knee pad off impeccably, though. Bringing together the best elements of those different pads into one.

Rapha Trail Knee Pad Review
Rapha’s pads looking good after a fight with metal grating.

Roughing up Rapha

Rapha is known for road gear. So how well do the trail pads work in the real world? Trees and dirt is about as far as you can get from Lycra and still be in cycling. Turns out they do really well. Rapha didn’t do this alone, of course. They’ve tapped several athletes that have decade-long careers in the sport to make sure the new gear hits the ground running, even when you hit the ground.

All this effort pays off when the Trail knee pads hit the ground in a more literal sense. Which, unfortunately, I’ve tested a few times now.

So far, Rapha’s pads have held of held up better than I have. In one crash, riding a well-worn log ride in early February, my wheel strayed just far enough off the chicken wire stapled to the log for grip. The bike disappeared out from under me near-instantaneously. My momentum carried my across the chicken wire on my way to the ground. The Rapha pads clearly took the impact, and had a bit of wear on the outer protective fabric, but no tears. More importantly, my knee was unscathed. My hands and arms? Not so much. I’ll spare you the photo evidence, but metal was tougher than flesh and the results were not great.

In several other crashes, the pads have stayed in place and the Rheon material protected well against impacts. The SuperSlip material does what it’s supposed to, letting the knee slide and not twisting the pads around on the knee.

That first crash, and several, did lead to some stitching on the upper gripper starting to come loose. The pads still fit well and stay in place, though. Even better? Rapha says this is covered under its free repair service.

There are limits, of course. Padding on the Trail knee pad provides solid coverage of the knee and upper portion of the shin. There’s no side protection of any sort. This is part of what makes them comfortable to pedal in, but it also limits the pads to a trail purpose. This is not a full-on downhill pad. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a great trail pad.

Rapha Trail Knee Pad Review
Rapha tailors the Trail knee pad to be comfortable while pedalling so you never have to question whether or not to wear pads

Conclusion: Comfort meets real protection

Rapha’s pulled off an impressive bit of work with the Trail knee pads. They are actually comfortable to pedal in for extended periods of time. No pad is invisible, but these breathe better than any trail pad that provides real protection. I’ve now pedalled many miles in the Rapha Trail pads and put them into the dirt (and metal grating) several times. They stay where you need them and provide good impact and abrasion protection.

You can’t choose when you crash, so you can’t really choose which rides to wear pads on and which ones to leave them in the car. The best pads are the ones that you’ll wear. The Rapha Trail knee pads leave little reason not to wear them on a regular, or every ride basis. With Rapha extending its repair service to the mtb gear, you can comfortably pedal hours without worrying about wearing the pads out, either.

Rapha Trail knee pads retail for $150.00. There’s five sizes, from XS to XL. They are available through Rapha and through retailers.